Losses Hit Harder

when the layers start to peel back

I lost my grandfather a couple of weeks ago, and it’s made the holidays weird and hard and beautiful. But as I was going back through my writing from two years ago, I found this one about my grandma, who I had just lost. I’m not in the same place, but the intensity of sorrow is still there.

I wish you could’ve met my grandma. She had this chuckle and an ornery glimmer in her eye that just brought the room to life. You could never predict what she had up her sleeve, but you could bet that when you’d get to her house she’d have a can of black olives, a jar of pepperoncinis, and more than enough candy to feed the neighborhood. Even in her 90s, she could break into dance. And she’d weave this masterful stories of the dancing competitions she’d won as a kid, or about how the gypsy king of Weirton was carried down mainstreet for his funeral. They’d come to life in your mind like you were standing on that street corner, watching the procession.

Almost two years after my trauma, she died. It wasn’t unexpected. She had been in the nursing home a year, and had had a stroke a couple of weeks before. But there’s a weird thing that came with my trauma, that came with years of not confronting the deep questions that I had buried because I couldn’t.

I thought that I would cry a little bit, talk about all the memories I had, and then life would keep moving. She was over 90, had lived a good life, and wasn’t in pain anymore–most people would say this was a blessing. I got to be a pallbearer with my brothers and cousins, see family who had been away for nearly twenty years, and celebrate her life.

But that’s not what happened. What happened was I hit a brick wall going 90 miles per hour. What happened was I couldn’t understand why. Why did she die? Why were we alive? Why didn’t I die two years ago. What even was the point of this life?

When I had my final follow-up with my OBGYN, he said there were three miracles. I should have been dead twice. My daughter should have been dead. There wasn’t a good medical explanation for why I was still alive.

And now, with my grandmother’s death, it was like some pathway to this experience, to this comment that I had buried, suddenly opened up. And this time, I couldn’t shovel past enough to stop myself from confronting those questions.

And I couldn’t answer those questions. I don’t know why I’m still alive. But I do know that I leaned hard on my faith to get through those moments that I couldn’t understand. And with that, I knew that we are here to love each other. As humans, we are flawed, deeply flawed. But there is a love that runs inside of us, that connects us all; that is why we are here. We’re here to love each other. We’re here to help each other through pain and isolation and separation. We’re here to show each other that there is hope because you are loved.

My grandma never ceased to surprise us. Once my oldest and I visited her in the nursing home and she was laying in bed, my PapPap next to her in his chair, watching sumo wrestling. They were cheering for the Polish sumo wrestler. My grandma wasn’t Polish, but I think Poland would accept her as an honorary citizen because she was so awesome.

It might not be the most profound moment, but I’ll always remember her laugh, her explaining who the different sumo wrestlers were. The look on my son’s face. Sometimes it’s these moments where love can be most found, the one’s where it’s a normal day and you’re watching sumo wrestling. The ones where you just smile and feel happy to be in the same room as someone else.